Anarchy in Bolivia
Both Morales and his opponents failed to ensure a peaceful, orderly transition
The forced resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales has thrown the poorest country in South America into its biggest political crisis in 13 years. As Bolivia’s first indigenous president, who rose to the top office through left-wing unionism, he presided over one of the most stable governments.
But cracks began to appear in his Movement for Socialism party when he sought a fourth consecutive term earlier this year. He was declared a winner of the October 20 election. But the opposition contested the results and launched widespread protests, demanding a fresh election.
After the Organization of American States alleged widespread poll fraud in an audit report, the military forced Mr. Morales and his allies to resign. In asylum in Mexico, he has vowed to fight the “coup”.
According to the Bolivian Constitution, if the President steps down, the Vice-President should take over. The heads of the Senate and Chamber of deputies are the other leaders in the hierarchy who could assume the acting presidency. But in this case, all four officials, all Socialists, have resigned.
And it has left a vacuum, which the military could exploit. Mr. Morales came to power, in 2006, riding South America’s so-called “pink tide”, and promising economic development and equitable wealth distribution. Under his fairly good track record, Bolivia has seen a drop in extreme poverty, from 33% of the population in 2006 to 15% last year.
His government also stepped up public investments, opened more schools and health clinics. The economy has also seen a steady growth rate. Mr. Morales made some major political mistakes as well. Primarily, he failed to bring up a second-rung leadership in the Movement for Socialism to whom he could pass the baton of his “2lst century socialist revolution”.
In 2016, his push to end presidential term limits through a referendum failed. He then said he accepted the verdict. But later, a constitutional court lifted the term limits, allowing the President to seek re-election. This had galvanized the opposition, which claimed that the President’s electoral participation itself was unconstitutional.
This was followed by allegations of electoral fraud, which further weakened him. Facing protests, Mr. Morales had offered another election. That should have been the way forward. A free and fair election being held under the supervision of international electoral monitors would have allowed the Bolivians to choose their legitimate leader.
But the violent protesters who insisted on Mr. Morales’s resignation, the police forces who rebelled against the government, and finally the generals who forced the President to go all destroyed the possibility of a peaceful transition. They threw Bolivia into anarchy and chaos. And more violence could be awaiting the country.